Pro tips: How to find the best real estate agent for you

Published: Wednesday, October 25, 2017 @ 6:07 PM

Finding the right real estate agent is like finding someone to spend your life with: it may take longer than you think and requires a lot of work, but the perfect match is out there waiting for you — you just have to find the one.

While reading reviews and getting referrals from friends and family can be helpful, this may not be as valuable as you might think.

“When you lean on friends and family for recommendations, you may end up with an agent who doesn’t meet your exact needs. Finding an agent on popular websites can be problematic as well. Many agents can pay for placement on websites that rank by customer reviews,” suggests Sumant Sridharan, HomeLight COO.

Use the following tips to dig deeper in your search and find your real estate agent soul mate. The right agent will be the difference between a fulfilling and successful home buying or selling experience and one that’s stressful, drawn out and expensive.

RELATED: How to lease a home with an option to purchase

Pro tips: How to find the perfect real estate agent

Ask the right questions

When looking for a real estate agent, you’re interviewing them on what they can do for you — asking questions is a necessary part of this process.

“You’re entitled to get your questions answered and to understand the full picture before entering any contracts or agreements. If an agent doesn’t satisfactorily answer your questions—or refuses to discuss something with you — keep looking,” according to How to Choose a Real Estate Agent .

Add following questions to your list, or use them as a starting point:

  • What’s your experience like? Who do you normally work with?
  • How will we communicate? How often will you be in touch?
  • What’s your process for helping your clients look for a property to buy?
  • Can you provide references, or connect me with past clients of yours?
  • What is your strategy for negotiating offers and counteroffers?

In addition to interviewing, Sridharan suggests looking into their transaction history: “The best way to find a great real estate agent is by analyzing their transaction history. Then you can see how many homes they’ve sold in your area, the average time it takes them to sell a home, along with many other informative metrics. You’ll get a clear picture of who can sell your house faster and for more money.”

RELATED: How to get trusted referrals for home repairs

Trust your instincts

Working with a real estate professional is like entering into a relationship, suggest experts at Vegas One Realty, which means you have to get along. If you don’t feel that personal connection in your gut, keep looking for another agent:

“If you don’t ‘click’ from the get-go, you’re not likely to get along well as the process moves along. No matter how impressive an agent’s resume or reputation is, if you don’t like them, move on to someone else.”

This is why the interview process, and asking the right questions, is so important. Knowing how you feel about them as a person and assessing their answers will guide you to the right person.

Look for specialty certifications

While general real estate agents can be valuable when buying or selling your home, like many other professions, having a speciality means they can provide you with that much more value.

“Doctors have specialties, and so do real estate agents. Even generalists will get additional training in some areas. So, the alphabet soup after an agent’s name can be an indication that the person has taken additional classes in a certain category of real estate sales,” says Dana Dratch, with Bankrate.

Dratch explains the top four specialties and designations:

  • CRS (Certified Residential Specialist): Trained in handling residential real estate.
  • ABR (Accredited Buyer’s Representative): Trained in representing buyers in transactions.
  • SRES (Seniors Real Estate Specialist): Trained in helping buyers and sellers in the 50-plus age range.
  • If they represent their title of “Realtor” with a capital “R,” they’re a member of NAR (National Association of Realtors).

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Test their availability

Buying or selling a home is stressful and sometimes things happen fast—and your agent needs to be able to react quickly, whether that means answering your panicked text message or the call for a cash offer. This is why it’s important to find an agent that’s available:

“Does your agent call you back when you have a question? Or do weeks go by with zero contact? Make sure that your agent is available to you—in appropriate amounts. They shouldn’t be at your beck and call, but they should be interested in answering your questions and keeping you informed,” says Genevieve Cunningham, with Coldwell Banker.

If you find a potential agent is impossible to get ahold of to nail down a time to meet or do a phone interview, they may not be the perfect real estate agent for you to work with.

Find your real estate soul mate

The right agent is waiting for you; you just to have to put in some work first. Use these tips to dig into your options and find someone who you “click” with. While it may take more time, you’ll end up having a better experience and find the home of your dreams — a win-win for everyone.

Top 10 best home insurers

Is credit monitoring a scam?

Published: Wednesday, November 22, 2017 @ 12:01 PM

Clark Howard explains how to protect yourself.

With the recent massive security breach of Equifax — one of the three credit bureaus with which many may have thought their private information was safer than most — now many people are dealing with more insecurities, wondering where they can entrust their private information, if anywhere.

Here are some options:

Credit freezing

Better and cheaper than credit monitoring, an option for optimal security is freezing your credit through each of the three credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion), according to WSB money expert Clark Howard at Clark.com.

The fee is $3 to $10 per person per bureau, depending on your state, to allow you to seal your credit reports — except now it's free with Experian from here on out due to the recent data breach.

You will be provided with a personal identification number (PIN) that only you know and can be used to temporarily unfreeze (or "thaw") your credit when legitimate applications for credit and services need to be processed such as when you are buying a car.

This added layer of security means thieves can't establish new credit in your name even if they are able to obtain your personal information.

LifeLock vs. CreditKarma.com

While LifeLock advertises it can help consumers secure their information to guard against identity theft, LifeLock charges monthly services that start at $10 a month.

This kind of credit monitoring is not the same or as effective as a credit freeze, said Craig Johnson for Clark.com.

Instead, he recommends CreditKarma.com for free credit monitoring.

Equifax

If you haven't already frozen your credit, now would be the time since Equifax recently got hacked and the information of possibly 145.5 million people was attained by these hackers.

Information accessed primarily includes names, social security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some instances, driver's license numbers.

To try to compensate, Equifax is offering free identity theft protection and credit file monitoring (but only through Jan. 31, 2018) with its TrustedID Premier.

Experian

Another point of confusion is the unsolicited free Dark Web Email Scan offered by Experian to your email, leading to a monthly fee for further scanning.

Experian IdentityWorks also offers a free 30-day trial membership for identity theft protection and resolution, involving a monthly automatic deduction of $9.99 for the plus plan or $19.99 for the premium plan.

It's free to cancel within the 30-day trial period, but the consequences are not revealed up front for those who decide to cancel their membership once the monthly fees begin.

TransUnion

The third credit bureau, TransUnion, also offers credit monitoring at $19.95 monthly. However, TransUnion says it offers free identity protection through its TrueIdentity program.

Free helpline

Those with specific questions about the Equifax breach and how it may impact them may contact Howard's Consumer Action Center — a free helpline open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. EST Monday through Friday with Team Clark volunteers available to answer concerns at 404-892-8227.

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4 of the best ways to turn your home into a cash cow

Published: Friday, November 17, 2017 @ 4:17 PM

Sites like Airbnb let you rent out your home to make money.
Sites like Airbnb let you rent out your home to make money.

Your house is a large expense with many associated costs like a mortgage payment, insurance, maintenance and more.

RELATED: How to Cash In on Short-Term Rentals Like Airbnb, VRBO

It provides a roof over your head, of course, but since it usually costs you money each month, why not put it to work for you and earn some cash in the process?

The following are four ways your house can make you money:

You can relax on the lake, in the woods or even in the back of a van when you're looking for a staycation in Gwinnett County.(Airbnb)

List your home with Airbnb or VRBO.

If you're planning to be out of town for a few days or don't mind bunking with a friend, you may be able to make some money by renting out your home through sites like Airbnb and VRBO.

Before jumping in, you'll need to take time to learn about the market, your expenses and any taxes you may need to pay. And before you list your property, you'll need to understand how to make it stand out with a good listing, including compelling photos and competitive pricing. Airbnb has a series of toolkits to help with this.

RELATED: Atlanta has Airbnb's most desired rental property in the world.

Rent it out to the area's growing TV and film industry.

When TV, film and commercial producers want to depict a home on screen, many times they'll rent the real thing, according to Money. It can be inconvenient for owners, however, since their homes may be taken over by a large crew and be completely rearranged.

On the other hand, homeowners often have fun with the experience while making some extra money. And while you're watching TV or a movie, you may be able to spot your home.

Host a foreign exchange student or faculty member.

Temporarily hosting a foreign exchange student or faculty member who's studying or teaching in this country can help you make some extra cash for anywhere from six weeks to six months at a time. You'll also be exposed to a different culture and language, and the experience could help you form a bond that lasts even when your guest returns home.

The Penny Hoarder suggests contacting student housing offices at local community colleges and universities, asking to be placed on their list of host families. After this, you'll have to apply, be interviewed, and allow your home to be toured. You'll also need to pass background and reference checks.

The 4-bedroom house sits on a corner lot with a concrete driveway that leads up to the two 2-car garages both having rear service doors. CONTRIBUTED PHOTOS BY KATHY TYLER

Rent out your driveway or storage space.

If you have extra space in your driveway, you may be able to make some money by letting others park there, according to Men's Health. This is especially true if you live near a commuter rail line or sports stadium, but you'll need to check to make sure you're not violating any local ordinances. Check out websites like JustPark to get started.

The Balance also suggests renting out any extra storage space you may have. From vehicles to personal items, your garage or home could help you make money through a site like StoreAtMyHouse.

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5 ways to get the most out of your health insurance plan

Published: Tuesday, November 14, 2017 @ 3:15 PM

Here are five ways to ensure you're getting the most out of your health insurance Choose your plan carefully Take advantage of preventative care benefits Work within your formulary Utilize HSAs and FSAs Watch out for surprise out-of-network charges

Health insurance has a large impact on your finances, so it pays to get the most out of your plan.

Understanding its ins and outs can be confusing, but it's worth your time to check on benefits you could be losing out on or mistakes that could cost you money.

Here are five ways to ensure you're getting the most out of your health insurance:

Choose your plan carefully.

When it's time to renew your health care coverage, consumer adviser Clark Howard recommends not just blindly signing up for your current plan, even if you've been happy with it.

Your plan – as well as other options you may be able to sign up for – may have changed. Take a close look at the co-pays, deductibles, in-network providers and other specifics to make sure you're making the best possible choice.

Take advantage of preventative care benefits.

Almost every plan, according to healthcare.gov, offers preventative care benefits that are free. You won't have to pay a co-pay or meet your deductible to get these services at no charge.

Services for adults include age-appropriate vaccinations and colorectal cancer screenings for patients over 50.

RELATED: 8 ways to get the cheapest car insurance possible

Work within your formulary.

Health care plans typically have a formulary, which is a list of medications that they're willing to pay part of or the entire cost of. It may include a list of preferred medications, for which it will pay the highest percentage of the cost.

It pays to be familiar with your formulary before you get an unpleasant surprise at the pharmacy, according to NerdWallet. Print out a copy of the document from your health insurance company's website, or call up an online copy at your doctor's office. Your doctor can work with you to make sure you get an effective medication that you can afford.

Utilize HSAs and FSAs.

If your health insurance plans allow you to put aside tax-free dollars in a Health Savings Account (HSA) or Flexible Spending Account (FSA), you should learn how they can help you. Consumer advisor Clark Howard's website, Clark.com, has a chart that explains the pros and cons of each.

An HSA is usually associated with high-deductible plans, and like an FSA, it helps you save money to pay for health care expenses. These can include everything from prescription eyeglasses to medication.

Watch out for surprise out-of-network charges.

Your insurance plan has a list of network providers, and when you can, you should stay in-network. That's easy enough if you're visiting a single doctor, but if you need to have surgery, things can get more complicated.

For pre-planned surgery, Consumer Reports recommends talking with your doctor's billing department to get a list of everyone who will provide your care, including radiologists and anesthesiologists. Call your health care company to see if they're in-network, and if not, ask your doctor if in-network providers can be used.

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5 ways to ensure you're getting the best mortgage rate

Published: Thursday, November 09, 2017 @ 5:11 PM

The following are five ways to ensure that you're getting the best mortgage rate possible Look beyond a 30-year fixed rate Improve your credit score if it's low Beef up your down payment Get more than one quote Consider paying points

When you're buying a home, getting the best possible mortgage rate can have a positive effect on your finances for years to come.

RELATED: 7 clever ways to cut the costs of buying your first home

Depending on how large your mortgage is and how long you stay in your home, it can save you thousands of dollars over the life of the loan.

The following are five ways to ensure that you're getting the best mortgage rate possible:

Look beyond a 30-year fixed rate.

A 30-year fixed rate is the standard loan, but it's not the only option. If you can handle a higher monthly payment, you can save a significant amount over time by getting a 15-year mortgage.

Although you'll pay more each month, you'll get a lower interest rate and be able to pay off your home much quicker. In addition, more of your early payments go toward paying down the principal, according to The Motley Fool.

Improve your credit score if it's low.

It's important to keep your credit score in good shape because it helps determine how many loan options you'll have as well as the interest rate you'll pay. Check your score with each agency – EquifaxExperian and TransUnion – and correct any mistakes. If needed, delay getting a loan until you can improve your score by paying off debt and paying every bill on time.

The Simple Dollar looked at mortgage interest rates based on three different credit rates. The lowest credit score used (620) would cost the borrower more than $99,000 over the life of the loan when compared to a higher score (over 760).

Beef up your down payment.

Most lenders like to see at least a 20 percent down payment in order to get the best mortgage loan rate, according to Forbes. If you pay less, you may have a higher rate since the lender will consider you to be at higher risk of defaulting.

You'll also have to pay private mortgage insurance (PMI), which protects the lender's interests in case you default on the loan.

Get more than one quote.

Most people get just one mortgage quote, consumer adviser Clark Howard says. He recommends shopping around and getting quotes from multiple lenders, including a local bank, a credit union and a few online lenders.

Each inquiry will be recorded on your credit report, so you should get your quotes within a two-week period. That way, it doesn't look like you're applying for multiple loans.

Consider paying points.

Lenders will often give you the option of paying for discount points up front in exchange for lowering your interest rate. These fees are paid directly to the lender, and one point costs 1 percent of your mortgage amount.

The reduction in interest depends on the lender, and you'll need to run the numbers to determine when you'll break even by consulting a mortgage point calculator. If you plan to live in your home for a long time, paying points may make sense, according to Money.

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